DOAG: EXPLORING CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES FOR CT FARMERS AT PLANT SCIENCE DAY


                         NEWS FROM THE CT DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE


                                                                    

 

Contact:                                                                                            August 13, 2014

Steve Jensen

860-713-2519-office

860-983-3556- cell

Steve.Jensen@ct.gov

 

        This article appeared in the August 13, 2014 edition of the CT Weekly Agricultural Report

                     

                     EXPLORING CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES FOR CT FARMERS

                             AT PLANT SCIENCE DAY  

 

Farmers in Connecticut and other Northeast states face a combination of challenges and opportunities from changing weather patterns that science shows are mainly sparked by man-made greenhouse gases.

 

That was the message delivered by a Cornell University agriculture professor last week at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station’s 104th annual Plant Science Day, which drew more than 1,000 people to the station’s Lockwood Farm in Hamden.

 

In his presentation, “Climate Change and Agriculture – No Longer Business as Usual,” Michael P. Hoffman ticked off a list of current impacts of climate change, including:

 

· 2001-2010 was the hottest decade on record

· Heavy rainfalls are up 74 percent since the 1960s

· A pattern of bursts of heavy rain and flooding interspersed with drought is becoming more prevalent

· Hotter summers and warmer winters mean more pests survive and expand their range

· Hardiness zones are moving north by about 30 yards each day 

 

“If you’re in farming it’s not business how it used to be,” said Hoffman, director of Cornell’s Agricultural Experiment Station and Associate Dean of the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


 “Climate change has made farming much more challenging. We all need to start talking about this more because there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.”

 

Farmers must be ready to adapt when they plant, how they irrigate and how they protect livestock from heat and other extreme weather, he said.

 

But along with the negative effects, Northeast farmers may be able to capitalize on the situation due to the region’s typically plentiful water supply and an increasingly longer growing season. That means farmers have the potential to plant new types of crops and perhaps increase yields by double-cropping in a single season. 

 

And if the drought that has taken hold in the West for much of the last decade persists, the heavily-populated Northeast will naturally become more dependent on locally-grown food. 

 

“We have 22 percent of the country’s population here in the Northeast,” Hoffman said. “Somebody has to feed them.”

 

While the cause of climate change is still the subject of intense debate, Hoffman’s view is unambiguous. His presentation includes slides titled “The Atmosphere Bathtub is Filling Up,”   “The Blanket is Getting Thicker,” and “It is Caused by Humans.”

 

“Change is here and we’re the cause of it,” he said. “Some people logically think it’s a natural cycle, but it’s not. People need to look at the science, not the emotion.”

 

He suggests farmers can help mitigate climate change and make their farms more efficient by carefully regulating use of nutrients, reducing tillage, increasing use of cover crops, converting waste to heat and power wherever feasible and employing wind and solar generation.

 

Hoffman’s lecture under the event’s main tent was followed by a visit from Governor Dannel. P Malloy – which organizers noted was the first from a sitting governor since Gov. Lowell P. Weicker in 1991.

 

The Governor is officially President of the experiment station’s administrative oversight panel, known as the Board of Control, on which Dept. of Agriculture commissioner Steven K. Reviczky also serves.

 

 

Shelton farmer Terry Jones, vice president of the station’s board of control, introduced Malloy and relayed a conversation they had soon after the governor took office.

 

“He said, ‘I’m not concerned about a farm being too small. I’m concerned about their being too small a number of farms,’ ”Jones recalled. 

 

Malloy, who has initiated and supported several programs to protect and restore farmland, said he also believes that Connecticut growers may benefit from climate change. Noting that the state leads New England with a 22-percent growth in new farms, Malloy said: 

 

“This gives us a key moment in time to move forward even more quickly than we have,” he said. “Let’s not lose this opportunity.”


Reviczky said the Governor’s strong support of agriculture is not only accelerating the growth of new farms, but is helping existing farmers expand and modify their operations by buying new equipment and making other improvements.

 

“This exciting period of growth in Connecticut agriculture can only be sustained if the state continues to make these kinds of fiscal and policy decisions that enable our farmers to keep producing high quality Connecticut grown products,” Reviczky said.  

 

Another presentation at the event was “The New Crops Program – Creating Opportunities for Connecticut’s Farmers” which explored ways that growers can diversify their offerings to target specific consumers. Some of the specialty crops that the Experiment Station has studied are Belgian endive, globe artichoke, radicchio, sweet potato, okra and Chinese cabbage.

 

Other discussions and demonstrations included managing roadside forest, composting, use of pesticides and environmental impact on wine grape production.

 

The decline of honeybees and bumblebees was addressed by Kim Stoner, an entomologist at the Experiment Station. She said Connecticut has lost about half its bee population in each of the past two winters – roughly double the national average.

 

While she suspects the decline is due to a combination of disease, parasites, and loss of quality foraging habitat, a definitive answer has proven elusive.

 

 “There’s no obvious pattern,” Stoner said. “Some researchers believe there has been a spillover of pathogens from the commercial bee population.”

 

Farmers and beekeepers can try to address the decline by protecting bees from pesticides, she said, and by planting diverse varieties of flowers for them to feed upon. 

 

“There are ways that beekeepers can make up for the losses,” she said.

 

The theme of needing to diversify and adapt to changes in the business of agriculture was also cited by the recipients of this year’s Century Farm Award: the Holdridge farm in Ledyard.

 

Founded in 1912 by Sam Holdridge as a mail-order house for strawberry and other fruit- bearing plants, it is now the largest garden center and nursery in southeastern Connecticut.

 

Shari Hewes took over the 60-acre farm in 2002 after her father, Bud Holdridge, passed away. She and her husband Matt have been in the family business for most of their lives, and say their continued success will depend on their ability to continually modify their operation.

 

 “We’re trying to adapt to keep this carrying on as long as we can,” Matt said. “What you think is relevant today may not be tomorrow.”    

 

Theodore Andreadis, Director of the Experiment Station, said the Aug. 6 event was the most heavily-attended in recent memory.

 

“For 104 years we have opened our gates to give the public the opportunity to visit with our scientific staff and see firsthand what we do,” he said. “It was also very gratifying to be able to show the Governor the diversity of our research initiatives and programs in our four core areas: agriculture, the environment, food safety and public health. On all accounts, it was a very good day.”